Max Planck Society

Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law

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Online version Handwörterbuch des Europäischen Privatrechts
Interfaith Marriages and the Tension between Religious and National Law – Considering the Examples of Israel, Lebanon and Tunisia


Imen Gallala-Arndt’s
study examines interfaith marriages and the legal problems and questions which result. The term “interfaith marriage” is broadly construed for the purposes of the study. On one hand it includes marriages between members of different religious faiths, but it includes as well marriages between spouses who are of the same faith but different denominations. Against the background of the growing role of private international law in respect of familial relations, the study is careful to consider not only interfaith marriages between spouses from the same state, but also international interfaith marriages. Thus, the focus of the inquiry encompasses national marriage law as well as conflict-of-law regimes and the corresponding jurisprudence of private international law.

The study devotes particular attention to interfaith marriages in North Africa and the Near Middle East. At the centre of the focus are three countries: Israel, Lebanon and Tunisia. These states are illustrative of either the interpersonal legal dichotomy or legal pluralism which can be identified and categorised: legal pluralism with privilege given to Judaism (Israel); legal pluralism with equality bestowed on all recognised religious faiths (Lebanon); and legal uniformity with privilege given to Islam (Tunisia).

With the exception of Tunisia, family and succession law in the examined countries is non-uniform and varies based on the underlying religion; as regards family and succession law matters, citizens are subject to the religious law of their respective faith. The religious law of particularly the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam forbids marriage with individuals of a different faith. In Tunisia, whereas family and succession law is uniform, certain interfaith marriages are deemed void in administrative and judicial practice. A segment of the study details the development of interfaith marriages in the three monotheistic faiths, beginning with the Ottoman Empire and moving forward across European colonisation and on into the modern era. Thus, the inquiry demonstrates that a marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man was forbidden only after the migration of the Prophet from Mecca. Similarly, in Jewish law marriage was forbidden only between Jews and Canaanites, the ban being extended to all non-Jews only later.

One emphasis of the study is formed by the question whether the legal treatment of interfaith marriages can be reconciled with the human rights law which is provided in the constitutions of these three countries as well as with the international conventions which they have ratified. A second emphasis is a consideration of the effect of the pertinent rules on legal certainty. In this regard, Gallala-Arndt is of the viewpoint that the currently existing treatment of interfaith marriages has resulted in a strain between the various and respective legal conceptions and objectives of the involved interest groups, and that this in turn has yielded inconsistencies within the legal system that significantly impair legal uniformity and obscure legal clarity. Further consideration is given to the question how the interlocking of law and religion at the state level affects private law relations within families. Finally, the inquiry addresses the question whether the religious functions attributed to law are being fulfilled, this being considered with regard to elements of the respective constitutional and private law. Alongside the content of the rules on interfaith marriage, the study also incorporates the findings collected during field study as to how the law is implemented in practice and experienced by the affected parties. The acceptance of Dr. Gallala-Arndt’s post-doctoral project as a lecture qualification (Habilitation) is being discussed with Prof. Mathias Rohe and the University of Nürnberg-Erlangen. It is anticipated that the work will be concluded by early 2015.